Recently, I attended a luncheon for the Baldwin Brentwood Whitehall Chamber of Commerce. The guest speaker was David Goldman. He’s a motivational speaker and life coach, and he talked about the road to happiness: how to get on it if you’re not, and how to stay on it if you are. As he spoke, some of his discussion points became strikingly similar to implementing a successful marketing plan at a small business.
Take for instance his perspective on the “Is the glass half full or half empty?” analogy. We’re used to thinking about that in terms of someone having a positive or negative outlook. (I am in the third camp; the glass has liquid in it and is neither half-full nor half-empty.)
David took it a step further and reframed the analogy to one’s personal or professional life. Instead of thinking about what is or is not working, reframe your thought process to “what is something that if it were added, would make a positive difference?” Food for thought there.
He went on to consider the “things” that tend to make a positive difference in our lives, either at home or at work. In any discipline, he said, there are only about six things that make up 80 percent of the results. Take personal health for example. What six things come to mind that make most of the difference in optimal health?
- Balanced diet
- Get enough rest
- Avoid smoking and drugs
- Don’t drink to excess
- Go to the doctor regularly
Doing these six things would probably lead to better health for most of us, and it wasn’t that hard to come up with the list.
As he spoke, I started thinking: what six things tend to make the most difference in a successful marketing plan?
Let’s be honest, a lot of marketing plans fail. Over the years, I have been in charge of more than one failed marketing plan, and I’ve seen clients with great ideas fall woefully short in executing theirs. This combination of first-hand experience and being a consultant on the outside has shown me that most failed marketing plans have one or a few things in common.
As in the above example, it didn’t take me long to come up with a list of six things, that if added into a marketing plan, would make about 80 percent of the difference. In my experience, the six core elements of a successful marketing plan are:
- Management buy-in and support
- Messaging & Branding
- A champion
Starting at the top: Management buy-in and support.
In my experience working with in-house marketing teams, and having been one in the past, you will not get very far if management isn’t totally on board with what you want to do. Same goes for small businesses where the owner is the marketing department, and about five other roles at the same time. If it’s not something you truly care about, you won’t make the time for it and you won’t work to find room in the budget.
When it comes to management support, there is a huge difference between your boss saying they support the plan, and what they do to actually back that up. It’s easy to say ok. It’s hard to help implement sometimes. Actions always speak louder than words.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a great idea that started out well turn into nothing when it wasn’t done consistently or allowed enough time to succeed. Most marketing plans are like this. Rarely does a campaign begin and you get a few new clients or customers immediately, or even within the first few months depending on your sales cycle.
If the messaging, branding, and channel alignment are there, and you have the right budget to support what you’re doing, you will see results – over time. It’s not fair to expect to achieve the ultimate goal quickly, unless your timing was just right, and you got lucky. That has happened, but not enough to bank on it.
Give your marketing campaigns, and your marketing people, time to do things right. Keep at it.
What’s your business personality? When I think of authentic brands, Sheetz comes to mind first. Why? First, because I worked at Sheetz during college and know first-hand the amount of employee training that goes into making sure customers have the same experience at every store. Now, seeing their marketing, you know it’s a Sheetz ad without even seeing the logo. Their language speaks the same on a billboard as an in-store display and on their social media profiles, and I guarantee multiple teams are running that show behind the scenes. They all produce the same authentic message because they know what their personality is and how they want to portray themselves.
Most companies have trouble with this concept, though. In professional services, nailing down an authentic voice can be hard when the business is known for any one of different people, all with their own personalities. Or the marketing team does the ads for the firm and comes up with a voice that’s totally off how the firm wants to be portrayed.
My questions for you are: If your firm was a person, how would it speak? As a collective, how do you want clients to describe the experience of doing business with you? What’s your reputation (and do you want to change it)? All of those elements, and more, go into finding an authentic voice for a business that doesn’t promote products, but rather services and expertise.
On to a topic of least favorite discussion for many marketing teams: Budget.
You can’t implement a successful marketing campaign or strategic plan without financial support. I’m not saying to throw all the money at marketing. What I am saying is that you can’t expect amazing results with a shoestring budget (usually). When do you get amazing results and you spend practically nothing, it’s more likely the marketing person put in HOURS of extra work and no shortage of ingenuity to make it happen.
If you want your marketing plan to make an impact, be prepared to pay for it. Marketing is an investment in future sales.
This is not to say you shouldn’t be tracking expenses, comparing costs, looking at channel performance, and setting benchmarks. Do all of those things. But spend more than one-half of a percent of total revenue.
#5: Branding and Messaging. The Words Matter.
Why is this not part of Authenticity? It is, but there’s so much more to branding and messaging that I thought it deserved its own number.
Branding in technical terms is easy: consistent color profile, font family, high-resolution logos, tagline. In theory, a company’s brand is harder to pinpoint. Start with the same questions to arrive at an authentic voice, then go a little further. Your company’s brand is how the firm is perceived by others, so that perception will change slightly according to who your target audience is.
Branding, and by extension quality messaging, depends upon a clear understanding of who you’re talking to (I strongly recommend buyer personas for your major industry verticals or service lines), what makes you different (not that you’ve been in business for 50 years, go deeper), and how people feel when they interact with your company.
Answering those questions will help you create on-point messaging that resonates with your target audience. Effective marketing needs to be about the customer or client, not the company.
Customer or client surveys/feedback/reviews are great resources to find out what your brand means to other people. For a really interesting discussion, compare those results with how your own people see the firm and what the brand means to them.
#6: Last but Not Least, Every Successful Marketing Plan Needs a Champion.
Someone who will do the work, who will get sh*t done, who will take ideas and execute the plan. Not everyone can do this, mind you. Sometimes there are time constraints and only so many hours in the day. Sometimes it’s a personality thing and the Idea Person is different than the Get Sh*t Done Person. Either way, great ideas don’t matter much if they never see the light of day.
If the Champion is the Marketing Director, but the MD is woefully short on time or just doesn’t specialize in one aspect of the plan, get them help. And the Champion can be different people, depending on which element of the plan is being put into action. In any case, the Champion should be ready, willing, and able to implement the ideas into action.
Honorable Mention: Time.
I have seen marketing plans or campaigns fall short because the people involved underestimated how much time would be required to do it well. Also ties in with Consistency and the Champion.
In one case many years ago, we were developing an e-newsletter campaign for a non-profit niche. We designed the e-news template, wrote an editorial calendar, segmented the subscriber list accordingly, and then nothing. I could write some of the content, but the really technical pieces, the high-value content, had to come from someone who did the audit and tax stuff. And there was never enough time to do it, so the project never got off the ground.
Another part of David’s talk during lunch that day touched on how to actually do these things that tend to make the most difference. In his experience – and the more I thought about it, I’ve noticed this too – there are tasks that are easy to do, hard to do, and easy not to do. And it’s the tasks that are easy not to do that usually make the biggest difference in the long run.
Keep an eye out for another post on the top elements of a marketing plan that are easy not to do, and suggestions for how to start putting more of them into your routine.
In the meantime, if you have thoughts on the six core elements of a successful marketing plan, we’d love to hear them! Would you change one of them? Add something else? Post in the comments.
As a bonus, David asked us if we had a hero. Mine? My now four-year-old son (pictured at age 3): he’s endlessly curious, fearless, vulnerable, compassionate, crazy, unapologetic, and smart. Try looking at the world through the eyes of a toddler. It’ll amaze (and baffle) you.